It was the first thought that came to mind when I followed the madness of the Isiah Thomas Comeback during the week I was away on vacation with my family. I didn’t have a laptop, just a Blackberry and limited access to that (Mrs. Fixer did not approve of it coming along on excursions with the kids).
The Isiah Situation came to life and then squelched within a week's time and I never had the opportunity to write a single word about it; it just all came at me in a mass collection of e-mails and immediately I thought of Han Solo coming out of the frozen carbonite and learning young Luke Skywalker is a Jedi.
“I’m out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur!’’
So I paraphrased that line when Bill Pidto threw it to me to open Thursday's Knicks Night Live show on MSG. And after that I got lost in too many facts and not enough opinion. And let me be clear: Despite what most people think, no one ever said I needed to be careful with my words. I have to admit I thought there might be suggestive warnings from the network about opening the show with the Isiah segment. Instead, we each talked about points we wanted to make and then did the show.
My colleague, Marc Berman of the New York Post, was right — for a change — in his recent blog when he said someone should have pointed out that the move turned into a nightmare. I thought I did touch on that, but in watching back the tape of the show I admit I really should have come a lot stronger on that end. Here's the opinion portion of my input during the segment:
“One thing we have to acknowledge is that this is alarming to fans. No one wants to go back to a previous era which was not successful and the job that Donnie Walsh has done these last two years to get this franchise back on its feet and pointed in the right direction, you can’t overlook that and unfortunately this is overshadowing that. Fans have to understand that Donnie Walsh is still very much in charge of this franchise and that’s really where the focus needs to stay.’’
There was a lot more to be said, such as that this was exactly what this fan base didn’t need after what had been a mostly hope-filled summer that conjured some optimism toward the coming season. That Isiah is still just too much of a hot-button issue here — and I think even Isiah was surprised that his name still conjures such outrage in this city — to make this move right now. Or ever.
That it wasn’t fair to Walsh and the work he did, even through the medical issues he battled and never used as an excuse. And that there has been a great deal of exaggeration throughout this entire story, from both the media end as well as from Isiah's side, which, of course, is nothing new.
But I’ve also got to believe if the ownership wanted Isiah Thomas to be the GM, he’d be the GM. The fact that Donnie Walsh and the staff weren’t totally on board with it suggests Walsh still has a strong voice here and one that doesn’t fall on deaf ears at 2 Penn Plaza.
But there is also an undeniable concern that Thomas may still have influence at the Garden and may still try to use it to get back into the NBA because, as I said on the show, this is the only avenue he may have to use.
Perhaps if the Pistons are sold, Isiah could work his way back to Detroit in some capacity. I reported a few weeks ago that Isiah had asked some friends what they thought of the idea of him returning to the NBA as the Knicks’ GM. One executive told him he should consider something a little more low-key and ease his way back in. And do it somewhere else.
The Pistons make the most sense, because he is still loved in Detroit, where his championship legacy resonates and he could get a much-needed prodigal son return. Thomas and deceased owner Bill Davidson had a strained relationship, but once the franchise is sold, Thomas could find his way back.
But Magic Johnson already is angling for a role there and we know from the things revealed in Magic’s book with Larry Bird two years ago that he and Isiah are no longer the kissing cousins they were during the 1990 NBA Finals.
Obviously ownership here has a strong interest in helping Isiah rehabilitate his image in the NBA and help him get back into the league, which he so desperately wants. But even with forewarnings from many people close to him, Isiah had to be taken aback by the strong negative response he drew by this attempt and, from what I understand, that’s why he decided to pull out of the Michael Kay show appearance on Thursday.
It was the right move because Isiah, already emotionally on edge because he felt like he would be walking into an ambush, likely would have put himself in a situation where, in defending himself, he said something on the air that would lead to yet another controversy. He is a lightning rod here in New York and he has to recognize that if he wants back in the NBA, he can’t put himself in any situations that will turn into another unwanted, ugly media frenzy.
But he already did when he engaged the idea of returning in an official capacity with the Knicks. How could he view this as a good idea, even from a personal standpoint? His motivation is that he wants to prove himself here in New York after failing the first time. But that could be viewed as selfish and myopic. Here's my message: If you really did care about the franchise, you’d understand just how upset the fan base is and how much they would prefer you go elsewhere. And if you did do that and found success, you would get deserved credit here in New York. You would get the love you crave.
This town does love a comeback story. But not one that is attempted by forcing the issue, especially while the wounds are still fresh. In this manner, you’re only provoking the masses and showing arrogance and defiance rather than contrition and humility. The public has spoken. It’s best to listen and learn.
The bottom line is, these are the people who matter most right now: the fans who have suffered long enough. This was a disappointing way to cap what had been a very encouraging offseason for this franchise and their fans, who so desperately need to move forward into a new, more promising era.